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Floey and I Have a New Theme Song

Floey looking at cameraThe first thing I do after I get dressed in the morning, before I go upstairs for breakfast, is light a few candles in the sitting area of my office, and do some devotional reading for maybe half an hour to an hour. It’s a good way to start my day. I sit in the lazy boy with my feet up and pick up a book from a stack on the end table next to me. Floey often hops up on the love seat near me for this quiet time.

One of the books I’m reading these days is Hymns for Personal Devotions by Jerry B. Jenkins. Jenkins has selected 52 hymns where the words are addressed directly to God. They are songs that encourage the reader/singer to feel as though they are talking to God directly, praising God from the bottom of their heart and soul. Jenkins suggests that readers focus on one hymn a week to fully internalize the theme of that hymn. Some of the song titles are: Holy, Holy, Holy; More Love to Thee; Breathe on Me Breath of God; Search Me, O God; Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah; To God Be the Glory; and so on.

Last week’s hymn was Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us. As I picked up the book to read a little about the hymn, and mentally sing the hymn to God, I looked over at Floey, who had joined me, as usual. She was gazing back at me. “Good morning, Mom,” she said softly. “What are you reading about today?”

“Good morning, Floey. I’m glad you joined me. The author is talking about the image of Jesus Christ as a shepherd. You’re part border collie, aren’t you, Floey? You should know all about shepherds.”

“That’s right, Mom. I think I’m part brittany spaniel (that’s where I get my good looks), part border collie (that’s where I get my natural instinct to herd any animal or person in sight), and the best of every other breed there is. And, yes, I know quite a bit about herding sheep and working together with a shepherd. What does the author say about Jesus as a shepherd?”

“Listen, Floey. Let me read part of his introduction to the hymn Jesus, Like a Shepherd, Lead Us. Jenkins writes:

The image of Jesus Christ as a shepherd was impressed upon me at a young age. Two pictures hung on the wall at the front of our sanctuary – on the left Jesus praying in the garden, and on the right Jesus carrying a sheep on his shoulders.

As a youngster I mistook the painting on the left as God the Father, but no explanation was necessary for the other. I knew the story of the shepherd who had gone looking for one lost sheep out of a hundred, for each was precious to him.

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As the baby of the family I identified with that sheep, and though I don’t believe Scripture indicates this, I always assumed the lost sheep was a young one. Otherwise, why would he be lost?

Sometimes late at night I heard my mother playing the piano and singing. When she sang, “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” it nearly made me cry, but not from unhappiness. I was too young to understand the emotion, but now I know I simply adored the idea of having my own Shepherd – the good, the great Shepherd.

Isn’t that a neat image, Floey? I can imagine myself wandering off the path, getting lost in the distractions of this world, and having Jesus, the good shepherd, come and find me, pick me up in his strong arms, and carry me safely home, like a little lamb.”

“Yeah, Mom. That’s a neat image. But you know what I think about? I think about how wonderful it would be to be Jesus’ sheepdog. I’d love to watch Jesus give me hand signals – or call out directions – to safely herd his sheep along the pathway. And then, when the sheep are in the fold, I can imagine myself sitting down beside Jesus, feeling him put his arm around me and giving me a quick hug, and talking to me softly about what a good dog I am.”

b9ea59273dbcba1689e2135f1b328547“Wow! That’s a neat image, too, Floey. I never thought of being Jesus’ sheepdog before. Working together with Jesus to care for the people of the world… That’s an image I want to ponder some more.”

“What does the hymn say, Mom?”

“It’s written as a prayer, from us, the sheep, to Jesus, the Shepherd. Listen to the words:

Savior, like a shepherd lead us,
Much we need Thy tender care;
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us,
For our use Thy folds prepare;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.

We are Thine, do thou befriend us,
Be the guardian of our way;
Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us,
Seek us when we go astray:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Hear, O hear us when we pray;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Hear, O hear us when we pray.

Thou hast promised to receive us,
Poor and sinful though we be;
Thou has mercy to relieve us,
Grace to cleanse, and pow’r to free:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Early let us turn to Thee;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Early let us turn to Thee.

Early let us seek Thy favor,
Early let us do Thy will;
Blessed Lord and only Savior,
With Thy love our bosoms fill:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast loved us, love us still;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast loved us, love us still.

20131216214722-374“Look at the gentle words in the first verse, Floey. Words like tender care and pleasant pastures. It’s easy to imagine how much the shepherd loves each little lamb with words like that. It’s comforting to feel like a little lamb with a very kind shepherd, isn’t it?”

“It sure is, Mom. But as a sheepdog, I identify more with the second verse. The Good Shepherd not only guards and defends his sheep, but he finds them when they go astray, and even more wonderfully, befriends them. And I was created with just the right instincts to help him with all of those tasks! Can you imagine that, Mom!”

fullsizeoutput_200d“Maybe we should keep this hymn as our own little theme song, Floey, so we never forget these images.”

“Good idea, Mom. You play the piano, I’ll sing the melody, and we can get Mim to sing a descant! We’re all in this together!”

 

Remember Me?

Eight months ago I stopped publishing my blog every week. Now I post an entry sporadically, averaging about one a month. The one thing I’ve been consistent about is always publishing on Tuesday morning. Today that tradition ends, too. It’s Friday. Specifically, it’s Good Friday, and there’s something on my mind that I want to share with you.

SKM_C22717041309390For the past several years, our church, Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison, has published a daily devotional booklet to be used during Lent. In January, members of the congregation are invited to volunteer to write a one-page reflection on a Bible verse that will be assigned to them. Every year volunteer writers range in age from elementary school children to very senior citizens. The resulting booklet is a wonderful devotional aid for all of us to read throughout lent. Here’s a link to this year’s booklet on the church website: http://www.messiahchurch.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/2017-Lenten-Booklet-MASTER.pdf

I’ve volunteered to be one of the writers every year. But the verse assigned to me in 2014 just didn’t speak to me. I had no idea what to write about, and I discussed that concern with my partner Mim. The verse was:

Jesus crying with a loud voice said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:46

Mim said, “Oh, I can write about that.” And even though Mim hates to write, she did it. She started her reflection with, “Having been a nurse for 40-plus years, I have been with many people as they have breathed their last…” It was the perfect verse for Mim to write about.

This year my verse is also from the book of Luke, and again it’s the one scheduled for Good Friday.

One of the criminals said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23:42

I decided to give my reflection double duty by posting it on this blog as well as having it appear in our church’s devotional booklet.

fullsizeoutput_204dWhy in the world did one of the criminals hanging on the cross next to Jesus ask Jesus to remember him? Why was it important to this criminal to be remembered by Jesus?  Why was the question important enough to Luke that he included it in his Gospel?

We all want to think that we matter as a person. At the women’s worship service in the Dane County Jail (where I volunteer as pianist), we take time to pray for each other.  The inmates, the chaplain, and I sit in chairs arranged in a circle. Each person shares what’s going on in her life as we go around the circle sharing our thoughts and feelings. Then we pray for each other by name. The person on my left prays out loud for me. Then I pray for the person sitting on my right. Then she prays for the person on her right, and so on. Each person is remembered. Each person is important in God’s eyes. And each person needs to know that.

I think that’s why the criminal on the cross asked Jesus to remember him. He needed to know that he mattered, that Jesus would remember him. Jesus reassured him that he would. In the very next verse Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

One of my favorite prayers in our hymnal is “Jesus, Remember Me.” It’s a simple Taize chant that repeats the words of this verse over and over again. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.…”

Yesterday I played the piano for the women’s worship service in the Dane County Jail again. I don’t play there twice a month any more like I used to. I just play occasionally for special services. Yesterday was a special service to observe all of Holy Week, including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. That’s a lot to cover in a little more than an hour. But with all of that, we took time to sing four hymns. One of them was “Jesus, Remember Me.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that Luke had a very good reason for including the criminal’s request in his Gospel. That’s my request, too.

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It’s Complicated, Floey. But Kindness is what matters.

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“Floey, you’re barking so loud I can’t think. What’s wrong?”

“Don’t you see him, Mom? Look. Across the pond. A stranger is walking along our trail. What do you think he’s up to? He doesn’t belong here!”

“Oh, I see him. That must be the trapper our neighbor Tom told me about.”

“What??? A trapper! What in the world is a trapper doing here?” Floey was incredulous. “Really, Mom? A trapper?”

“Well, Floey. I wish I could talk with Gilbert and Gloria Goose, and their cousins Greg and Grace Goose about this, but they won’t be coming back to the pond for another week or two. They usually come back just in time for Lent. Remember how we all sing hymns together?”

“Of course, I remember them, Mom. But what do they have to do with a trapper?”

Gilbert and Gloria Goose on Whispering Pond

Gilbert and Gloria Goose on Whispering Pond

“Well, it’s complicated, Floey. You know God created a wonderful world for all of us to enjoy.”

“That’s right. And we get to live in one of the best places in the whole world. We have a beautiful pond in our back yard that we share with lots of songbirds. And in the spring and fall, geese and ducks share our pond with us, too. And this winter, a new family joined us – the Otters. Ole Otter is even bigger than me. When I first saw him, I thought he was a big, brown seal. His wife Olga and their three pups – Oscar, Otto, and Olivia – just love to jump off the ice into the water to catch fish. Then they tread water near the edge of the ice as they chomp leisurely on their catch. I think the Otter family enjoys living here as much as we do. They sure enjoy their fish dinners!”

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Internet image (I wasn’t fast enough with my camera to snap a photo of our neighbors)

“Well, Floey, that’s what’s complicated. I like the Otter family, too. It’s fun to have such happy neighbors. But, I’m afraid they’re eating too many fish. Soon our pond will be empty. At our last condo association meeting, everyone agreed that we need to ask the Otter family to leave.”

“Oh, no, Mom! Can’t we just get some more fish? Can’t we all get along?”

“I’m afraid the people who live here decided that we should hire a trapper to safely transport the Otter family to another location. I’ll have to admit, I think the people are being kind of self-centered with this decision. The decision may be what’s best for the people who like to fish from the edge of the pond, but I don’t think it’s what’s best for the animals involved, although the few remaining fish are probably happy. But I wish the Goose families were back again so we could talk with them about this decision. Maybe they would have another perspective and a better solution, one that’s best for everyone.”

“I agree, Mom. What do you think our Goose friends would say?”

“Well, I don’t know, Floey, but in my mind I can picture Gilbert and Gloria singing the song, Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love.”

“I don’t know that song. How does it go?” Floey asked.

“It begins with the refrain:

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve
the neighbors we have from you.

“Then it continues with four verses. The refrain is sung again after each verse.”

Kneels at the feet of his friends,
silently washes their feet,
master who pours out himself for them.

Neighbors are wealthy and poor,
varied in color and race,
neighbors are nearby and far away.

These are the ones we will serve,
these are the ones we will love;
all these are neighbors to us and you.

Kneel at the feet of our friends,
silently washing their feet,
this is the way we will live with you.

[Tom Colvin]

fullsizeoutput_200f“That’s a good song, Mom. I can easily imagine Gilbert and Gloria singing it about our new neighbors, Ole and Olga Otter and their pups. Even though Ole and Olga are a different species from all of us, they are still souls that God created, and we need to love them and accept them as our new neighbors.”

“That’s right, Floey. That’s why I’m troubled about forcing them to move.”

“OK, Mom. Let’s go spring the traps so our new friends don’t get caught.”

“Not so fast, Floey. Remember, I said this is complicated. What about our fish? Don’t you think God wants us to protect them, too? Otters need to eat a lot of fish to survive. Maybe the best solution for everyone is for us to help relocate the Otter family to a place with plenty of fish, a new home where they won’t deplete their food source, a place where the fish population can still thrive, even with the Otters in the neighborhood.”

“I guess you’re right, Mom.” Floey looked thoughtful for a few minutes, and then asked, “Will the Otter family be treated like refugees when they try to set up their new home? Or, will their new neighbors accept them as part of God’s family?”

“I sure hope they are warmly welcomed, Floey. Remember the old gospel song, God Will Take Care of You?” The Otters need to believe that song and trust that God really will take care of them.

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Internet image

“Oscar, Otto, and Olivia are such friendly little pups. I’ll miss having them in our neighborhood. I think I’ll go teach them that song right now so they don’t have to be afraid of what will happen to them next. They need to know that we love them, even if they can’t live in our neighborhood. And, most important, they need to know that God will watch out for them wherever they are. ”

“Good idea, Floey. And when the Goose families return in a week or two, we can tell them about our Otter neighbors, and we can all sing the song together, and as we sing we can prayerfully think of Ole and Olga, Oscar, Otto, and Olivia.

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Little Otto. Internet image

Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.

Refrain:
God will take care of you,
Thru ev’ry day, O’er all the way;
He will take care of you,
God will take care of you.

Thru days of toil when heart doth fail;
God will take care of you.

When dangers fierce your path assail;
God will take care of you. 
Refrain.

All you may need He will provide;
God will take care of you.
Nothing you ask will be denied; 
God will take care of you.
Refrain.

fullsizeoutput_200dNo matter what may be the test, 
God will take care of you.
Lean, weary one, upon His breast;
God will take care of you.
Refrain.

[Civilla D. Martin]

Something I Started To Think about in Fifth Grade

fullsizeoutput_2003I was about ten years old when I first tried to understand what the terms “socialism” and “capitalism” meant. My fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Borgerud, and she very patiently tried to explain to the class the core beliefs of each political/economic system. Back in the ‘50s, we all knew that the United States was right and Russia was wrong with regard to all our differences. Therefore, it was clear that capitalism was good and socialism was bad. We knew that. What we were trying to learn that day was what those big words really meant.

I learned that “socialism” was based on the belief that everyone is equally entitled to all our resources and everyone should be treated fairly. Our resources should be owned communally, and everyone should work together so that the basic needs of all of us would be met. My initial reaction was quite positive. That sounded like what Christ modeled in the New Testament – that we should help each other and take care of the poor and the sick. I was surprised. That couldn’t really be what “socialism” was all about… Or, was it?

Then I learned that “capitalism” was based on the belief that the harder we worked, the greater would be our rewards. Those who were poor, deserved to be poor because they didn’t work hard enough. That sounded to me more like selfishness and greed and disrespect for the poor. That didn’t seem to be the type of behavior the Bible encouraged.

I was puzzled. I looked around at the other kids in the class to see if they were as confused as I was by what we were hearing from our teacher. I couldn’t tell. No one expressed any of the shock that I was feeling. I guess I must not be understanding what Mrs. Borgerud was really saying. I didn’t speak up. I just listened some more.

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Mrs. Borgerud came to live with us for assisted living care several years ago. She and Abbey became good friends.

Mrs. Borgerud explained that one reason capitalism was better than socialism was that it provided an incentive for people to work hard. If you want to be rich, you can be rich. You just need to work hard enough. In contrast, the weakness in socialism is that there is no incentive to work hard. You will get all your needs met whether you work or not. Socialism provides an incentive to be lazy.

I guess that made sense. But I was still troubled. I didn’t know anyone who worked harder than my mom and dad, yet we considered ourselves poor, not rich. I never went hungry, and I always had enough clothes – although they all came from Penneys or Sears, not from Manchesters where some of my classmates from wealthier families bought their clothes. I’m sure their parents didn’t work harder than mine. There didn’t seem to be much of a correlation between hard work and wealth.

And what about the special offerings we sometimes had in church to provide food and clothing for the poor in our inner cities and in Africa and India? What did capitalism have to say about meeting the needs of the poor? Was being poor really their own problem because they were too lazy to work?

It’s been almost 60 years since I first wondered about these things.  Ever since that day in fifth grade, I’ve been suspicious that there may be serious inconsistencies between capitalism and what the Bible says about how God intends for us to share our resources with our neighbors.

At times I’ve wondered if socialism follows the teachings of the Bible more closely. That sounds more like how the early church lived.

Now the group of those who believed were of one heart and one soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. [Acts 4:32-35 NRSV]

Ellen M KogstadA few years ago Mim and I had a long conversation with Ellen, a friend of ours in Chicago. Her family immigrated from Norway to the United States when she was a little girl. Ellen still keeps in close touch with many of her relatives in Norway. Our conversation with Ellen was after one of her recent trips to Norway. She talked about how socialism has changed the way people think about caring for their less fortunate neighbors. “It’s the government’s job to see that their needs are met – not mine.” Her cousins rarely go to church, and they certainly don’t tithe. There’s no personal sense of responsibility to care for the poor. It seems that the advice given in Proverbs no longer applies to individuals in Norway.

Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but one who turns a blind eye will get many a curse. [Proverbs 28:27 NRSV]

Why am I thinking about socialism and capitalism today? I can’t help but think about what is the appropriate role of government, as our country is jolted from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration. It seems we are changing in lightning speed from trying to be a “kind, gentle nation” to becoming a “tough, aggressive, me-first nation.” Selfishness is expressed in the new administration’s slogan of “America First!”

As I read the lectionary readings for January 29, 2017 in preparation for planning the music for Sunday’s church service, I read Micah 6:1-8, the Old Testament reading for the day. In the reading, God has a complaint against Israel. After all God has done for Israel, why aren’t they following after the righteousness they have been shown. The passage ends with these words:

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? [Micah 6:8 NRSV]

I think it’s obvious from experience around the world that no political/economic system is perfect. But God’s standard of how we should act as a nation has been set – To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. With all the political squabbling that’s going on now, this is what we need to remember. This needs to be our guiding principal – personally and as a nation.

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This Year’s Lesson: KINDNESS

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What do an Italian psychotherapist, a Christian college president in California, and a hitchhiker across America have in common? They each wrote a book about kindness. And I read them all this year.

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As you may recall, “kindness” is my special word for 2016. Upon the suggestion of Debbie Macomber in her book, One Perfect Word, I’ve chosen one special word to have as my focus for a whole year instead of making up New Year’s resolutions each year. I’ve done this for three years now.

By the middle of this year, I’d kind of forgotten about my special word for 2016. When I realized that, I decided to take my special word commitment a little more seriously, and I went to Amazon.com and searched for books on “kindness.” I downloaded Kindle versions of two books: The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life by Piero Ferrucci (the Italian psychotherapist) and Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue by Barry H. Corey (the president of Biola University). The next day I received my usual daily email from BookBub, a service that offers about half a dozen Kindle books each day for prices ranging from FREE to $1.99. That day’s offering included The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless across America by Mike McIntyre (the journalist who hitchhiked from the west coast to the east coast without a penny in his pocket in order to see if he would experience any kindness from strangers throughout this country).

All three books are filled with personal stories about people who have received or demonstrated kindness in a wide variety of circumstances. All three books are fascinating to read and I highly recommend them.

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I read The Power of Kindness first because of the Preface written by the Dalai Lama. I could hardly wait to start reading it. Here’s an excerpt from the Preface:

This is a book after my own heart. Piero Ferrucci has drawn on both his broad experience as a psychotherapist and what I think of as fundamental human values to write on the importance of kindness. What I particularly appreciate about his presentation is that he makes kindness the starting point, the fount from which flow so many other positive qualities, such as honesty, forgiveness, patience, and generosity. It is a compelling and encouraging approach.

I believe that if we stop to think, it is clear that our very survival, even today, depends upon the acts and kindness of so many people. Right from the moment of our birth, we are under the care and kindness of our parents; later in life, when facing the sufferings of disease and old age, we are again dependent on the kindness of others. If at the beginning and end of our lives we depend upon others’ kindness, why then in the middle, when we have the opportunity, should we not act kindly toward others?

Kindness and compassion are among the principal things that make our lives meaningful. They are the source of lasting happiness and joy…

Each chapter of this book is about a particular virtue, such as Honesty, Forgiveness, Humility, Flexibility, and so on. And each chapter is filled with stories about real people who demonstrate these virtues, with kindness always being at the core. For example, the chapter on Warmth includes this little story:

A woman I know, let’s call her Dorothea, tells me another story. Every evening she hears her neighbors’ baby girl crying in the apartment next to hers. The parents put the child to sleep alone in the dark. The baby cries for a long time while the parents watch television. The baby’s desperate crying expresses all her anguish, her solitude. What should Dorothea do? She is uncertain. Speaking to the parents might make things worse. She decides to sing. Just as she can hear the baby, the baby can hear her. Every evening when they put the baby to bed, Dorothea sings her sweet lullabies, talks to her through the thin walls, consoles and comforts her. The baby hears the invisible friendly voice, stops crying, and falls peacefully asleep. The warmth of a stranger’s voice has saved her from the icy cold of loneliness.

In the concluding chapter of the book, Ferrucci recalls another story:

In a story by Tolstoy, a poor shoemaker hears the voice of Christ in a dream: “Today I will come to you.” Then he wakes up and goes to work. During the day, he meets a young woman who is hungry and he gives her food. An old man passes by feeling cold, and he lets him in to warm himself. Later, he takes care of a child who is having problems with his mother. They are all spontaneous acts for which he need give no thought. At the end of the day, before going to sleep, the shoemaker remembers his dream and thinks that it has not come true, since he did not meet Christ. He then hears a voice. It is the voice of Christ, “My dear friend, did you not recognize me? I was that woman, I was that old man, I was the child and his mother…. You met me, and you helped me. I was with you the whole day.”

When you read this book, and when you stop to think about it, kindness really is at the core of just about everything good in this life. We encounter multiple opportunities every day to respond with kindness, just as we are often the recipients of the kindness of others.

510aS5svVvLThe second kindness book I read was Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue by Barry H. Corey. Why would I want to read a book written by an Evangelical who clearly and outspokenly believes that I am living a life of sin because I am a woman and I married a woman? Partly I wanted to read the book because I wanted to see what a staunch Evangelical would say about how to be kind to people you fundamentally disagree with on important issues. In what ways can I expect him to show kindness to me, and how should I be kind to him? And partly I wanted to read the book because the reviews said he was a good storyteller.

I wasn’t disappointed. The book is full of personal stories that illustrate how he learned to be kind in different circumstances. And what he learned not to do. Two key concepts he emphasized were to be “receivable” – to be welcoming of people with whom we have disagreements, and to have a “firm center with soft edges” – to be firm in our core beliefs as Christians, but to be softer, more flexible in less significant areas, which is often where our strongest disagreements foster hostility rather than loving kindness. One of the reviewers described the book this way:

Barry Corey is a kind man. He learned to be kind from his remarkable father. So Corey is well qualified – academically and spiritually – to write this book, a book that embodies the interesting approach of teaching different aspects of kindness through stories in his own life. For Corey, kindness is not niceness, adopting a position of compromise, or an expression of a desire to be received. Rather, it is learning to be receivable, and it is learning to dialog with those with whom we disagree with kindness in the way of Jesus. The number of issues that divide us is multiplying each day. As a result, there never has been a time other than now when Love Kindness is so desperately needed. Get this book, read it, discuss it with your friends and those whom you oppose. You’ll be glad you did. [J. P. Moreland – Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University and author of The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters]

51vvcam7qfl-_sx326_bo1204203200_I saved the best book for last, and I just finished reading it a few days ago. Mike McIntyre is a newspaper columnist currently living in San Diego, although he has lived and worked as a journalist all around the world. Here’s the blurb about the book from Amazon.com:

Stuck in a job he no longer found fulfilling, journalist Mike McIntyre felt his life was quickly passing him by. So one day he hit the road to trek from one end of the country to the other with little more than the clothes on his back and without a single penny in his pocket. Through his travels, he found varying degrees of kindness in strangers from all walks of life – and discovered more about people and values and life on the road in America than he’d ever thought possible. The gifts of food and shelter he received along the way were outweighed only the the touching gifts of the heart – the willingness of many he met to welcome a lonely stranger into their homes … and the discovery that sometimes those who give the most are the ones with the least to spare.

This book has 40 short chapters, each one is the story of an encounter with a stranger who showed him kindness in some way as he hitchhiked penniless across America. A few of the stories were frightening, a few were sad, and many of them were remarkably inspiring. The stories gave fascinating glimpses into the lives of the Americans he met on his journey. In six weeks, Mike traveled 4,223 miles, crossed 14 states, accepted 82 rides, was given 78 meals and was invited to do the laundry in his backpack 5 times in the homes of drivers who offered him a bed for the night. On this journey, he found kindness expressed in ways he had never anticipated.

These three books on “kindness” provided three very different perspectives on the idea of “kindness.” I’m glad I read all three books, and I’m glad I chose “kindness” for my special word for 2016. My mom was onto something back in the 1950s when she made my 9-year-old brother Danny and 7-year-old me memorize the Bible verse Ephesians 4:32 –

kindness-1Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. 

Back then I thought her reason was to help Danny and me realize we needed to be nice to each other when we were home alone and she was away at work. Now I know she had more in mind. I think she knew, just like these three authors know, that kindness is the core virtue that can enrich everyone’s life.

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Let’s Pray, Floey

Floey sitting - profile cropped“Hey, Mom. We need to have a talk.”

“OK, Floey. What’s on your mind?”

“Ever since you stopped writing your blog every week, I feel that we don’t talk at all. Oh, I know we still talk about the birds and the bees and the gophers when we’re on our walks – how beautiful the goldfinches are, how annoying the wasps are, and how fast the gophers can run when I chase them… But we don’t have deep conversations like we used to have. I miss that.”

“Well, I’ve got some time now. What do you want to talk about?”

“I don’t really care. I just want to spend some time with you, talking about some of the things we’ve each been thinking about. I know. Last month you played the piano in jail twice for the women’s worship service again. How did that go?”

“Oh, that was really something, Floey. The main theme we talked about both weeks was God’s healing. We sang There is a Balm in Gilead and Amazing Grace. You know what was the best part of those services?”

“I bet it was singing those beautiful hymns!”

“Nope. It was when we prayed for each other. Remember we all sit in chairs arranged in a circle, and near the end of the service we pray out loud for the person sitting on our right. That means the person on my left prays out loud for me. When she’s finished, everyone says Amen, and then I pray for the person on my right, and so on.”

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Inmates are no longer permitted to hold hands while praying, as pictured. Internet image.

“Well, the first week, Marie, the woman on my left, prayed a long prayer for me. She thanked God for bringing me to play the piano to help them sing hymns. She asked God to bless me and my family. She thanked God for all kinds of wonderful attributes that she thinks I have. I felt really blessed as I heard her pray. Silently, I thanked God for letting me participate in a worship service with these kind, caring women.”

“That must have felt really good, Mom, to be prayed for like that. The woman who prayed for you sounds like a really nice woman.”

“It did feel good, Floey. And Marie seems like a good, kind, Christian woman.”

“After the service I told the chaplain how surprised I was at the long, glowing prayer Marie prayed for me.”

“The chaplain then told me a little about Marie. She was in jail awaiting trial for murdering her teenaged niece. Apparently Marie had been taking care of her niece, and had used physical punishment as a means of disciplining her. When her niece died, she moved the body out of state and managed to keep her hidden for a long time before a relative finally told the police.”

“How can that be, Mom? Do you think she really killed her niece?”

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“I don’t know, Floey. Life is complicated. Maybe killing her niece was an accident. Maybe Marie has severe mental illness. Maybe not. All I know is that she prays like she really loves God and wants to please God regardless of what happens in her life. And I know that she blessed my life by praying for me. And I will continue to pray for her that God will comfort her and bless her regardless of where she spends the rest of her life.”

“Wow. How about your next week in jail? Was prayer time the highlight of that service, too?”

“Yes, it was, Floey. It wasn’t quite as dramatic, but the woman who prayed for me thanked God for bringing me into their services to provide music, and then she thanked God that my spirit was there the weeks that I wasn’t there in person.”

“It sounds like you like to be prayed for, Mom. But I don’t blame you. I’d like to hear someone pray for me sometime, too.”

“I pray for you, Floey, but I’ll admit that I don’t think I’ve ever prayed for you out loud in front of you. We’ll have to pray together sometime. We should pray for each other like we do in jail.”

“I’d like that, Mom.”

skmbt_c28016091209590“On the subject of prayer, Floey, Joan Chittister talked about prayer every day in August in THE MONASTIC WAY. She used a quote by Teresa of Avila as the theme for the month’s daily devotions.

Authentic prayer changes us, unmasks us, strips us, indicates where growth is needed.

“Chittister’s reflection on August 5 really grabbed my attention.

The role of prayer is not to coax God into doing what we think would be good for us. It is to embolden us with the courage it will take to do, ourselves, what scripture shows us Jesus would do in a similar situation.

“On August 12th she wrote:

When we discover who we really are, we are finally able to understand others. To be compassionate toward them. To be a gift to the world.

“Then on the 18th she said:

Prayer is the wail of the soul to become what we are really meant to be.

“Near the end of the month she reached the conclusion:

If we are too busy to take time for prayerful reflection every day, we are too busy to be human, too busy to be good, too busy to grow, too busy to be peaceful.

“You know, Floey, between jail and Joan Chittister, I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer over the past several weeks. I think I see prayer a little more broadly than I used to. It’s not just talking to God about what I perceive to be my needs and the needs of my friends, or thanking God for all the good things in my life. It’s communicating with God on a deeper level, learning more about why God created me, and how I may fit into the big picture of life. And it’s about learning to appreciate all of God’s creation. It’s about communicating with God in many different ways throughout the day and night. And I’m just beginning to learn…”

“OK, Mom. That’s enough deep conversation for now. Let’s go for a walk to look for goldfinches and gophers.”

“Good idea, Floey. Enjoying all of God’s creatures is another way of praying…”

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Goldfinch and bee on thistle. Internet image.

 

When Floey Scolded Me…

Floey - thoughtful faceI was sitting at my desk, clicking away on my computer. Floey came trotting up to me and sat down. “Hey, what are you doing, Mom?” she asked.

“Oh, hi, Floey. I just bought two new kindle books on Amazon.”

“You what???? You just organized 2,000 books on your bookcases throughout the house, and you just bought two more books?”

“Well, I bought digital books, Floey, so they won’t take up any physical space.”

“But, don’t you have enough to read already? I can’t believe you bought two more books. Does Mim know?”

“No. I haven’t told her yet. But let me tell you the titles of the two books I bought, and explain why I bought them.”

“Yeah. I think you had better explain.”

“Floey, do you remember what my special word is for this year?”

“Hmmm. I remember my word. It’s MEOW. I want to learn how to communicate better with the cats in the neighborhood this year. That’s why I chose MEOW for my special word. But I’m not doing very well with it. The cats seem to have gone into hiding. I don’t even see them any more to try to communicate with them. Hmmm. But I don’t remember your special word. What is it?”

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Learning to communicate (Internet image)

“Well, Floey. That’s the problem. I didn’t remember it either. It’s supposed to be the word I’m concentrating on all year, and I simply forgot it. I remember my special word for 2015. That was GRATITUDE. I couldn’t forget that word because every single night before going to sleep I thought about everything that I was grateful for that day. Gratitude was always on my mind. And the year before, 2014, the first year I chose a special word, my word was JOY. That word was also on my mind all year as I kept on the lookout for moments of joy everywhere. But I actually forgot this year’s word! I couldn’t believe it. I had to look back on my blog to the first of the year and re-read the post about our special words to find it.”

“Wow! That’s terrible, Mom. I can’t believe you forgot your special word!”

“I know. Fortunately, I had my blog to go back to so I could find it. My word for this year is KINDNESS. Now why do you think I forgot that word?”

“I don’t know, Mom. It sounds like a good, inspiring word to me.”

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“Well I’ve been thinking about this for a couple weeks – when I happened to think about our special words and realized I couldn’t remember my word. I think part of the reason I forgot it is that I never set up any ritual around the word that would prompt me to think about it this year, like I did with GRATITUDE as my word last year. So I decided maybe I should try to find a book about KINDNESS that would trigger my mind to start thinking about it.

Floeys Face 2Now that I’ve sorted through all 2,000 books that Mim and I own, I tried to remember if any of them were specifically about KINDNESS. You know, I couldn’t think of even one book that had KINDNESS as the major theme.”

“Really? That’s hard to believe, Mom. Are you sure?”

“I’m sure some of the books address kindness in passing, but none of our books have kindness as the main theme.”

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Our built-in bookcase holds less than half our books.

Floey just shook her head slowly from side to side. “So is that why you went to Amazon?” she asked.

“Yes, Floey. I went to amazon.com and searched for books on kindness.”

“I bet hundreds of books popped up. Right?”

“Well there were a lot. The list started with lots of children’s books, but then it moved on to adult books.”

“How did you pick out the two books you chose?”

“Well first, I checked to see if any of my favorite authors had written any books about kindness. I thought maybe Debbie Macomber or Philip Yancey or Max Lucado might have written books on the subject, but no luck – at least no books that I could find. Then I started reading the book descriptions and reader reviews of the books on Amazon.” One of the books with the best reviews was THE POWER OF KINDNESS: THE UNEXPECTED BENEFITS OF LEADING A COMPASSIONATE LIFE by Piero Ferrucci. The author is an Italian psychotherapist. The Dalai Lama wrote the preface to the book, which I considered quite an endorsement. The Publishers Weekly review of the book said,

41XJHAHAgmL[Ferrucci] writes in a soothing, humane manner… Laced with stories from religion and philosophy, anecdotes from patients and personal experience, the book explores how Ferrucci’s ideas can be applied to everyday life. In “Forgiveness,” he describes how a Holocaust survivor was able to forgive those who murdered his family and explains that forgiveness is the only remedy for unspeakable suffering. In the section on service, he suggests small ways one can benefit the lives of others, such as telling a joke to lift a friend’s spirits or offering to make dinner for someone who needs time to rest. Ferrucci offers a fine reminder of how good, and how easy, it is to be kind.

“I don’t know about you, Floey, but I like to learn knew things – to explore new ideas – by listening to stories, not just theories and explanations. Real stories. Apparently, that’s how this book is written, which is one of the reasons I chose it.”

“Well, Mom. It sounds like this is the perfect book for you to read. So, why did you buy a second book?”

“Well, I have a secret, Floey. I don’t think I’ve ever told you this about myself. Here goes… I come from an Evangelical background. I grew up in a conservative little Methodist Church, and I even graduated from Wheaton College – the alma mater of Billy Graham. Graham was even my graduation speaker.”

“Wow, Mom! You mean you come from the Religious Right? Really?”

“Well, yes, Floey. That’s where my roots are. And, even though many Evangelicals would refuse to claim me as one of their own because I don’t agree with some of their values, I still think that many Evangelicals really love God and are honestly trying to live the kind of life God intends for all of us to live. For that reason, I keep reading some Evangelical authors. I can learn from them – even though sometimes I’m horrified by what I read. Usually that’s not the case. Usually they have thoughtful insights to share.”

“I get it. Your second book is by an Evangelical, right?”

“You’re right, Floey. The second book is LOVE KINDNESS: DISCOVER THE POWER OF A FORGOTTEN CHRISTIAN VIRTUE by Barry H. Corey. Here’s a paragraph from the description of the book on Amazon:

510aS5svVvLDr. Barry Corey, president of Biola University, believes we tend to devalue the importance of kindness, opting instead for caustic expressions of certainty that push people away. We forget that the essence of what God requires of us is to “love kindness.” In this book, filled with stories from his travels around the globe, Barry shows us the forgotten way of kindness. It is a life that calls us to put ourselves at risk. A life that calls us to hope. A life of a firm center and soft edges. It is the life Christ invites us to follow, no matter what the cost.

“I can hardly wait to start reading these two books, Floey.”

“Well, I bet you won’t forget this year’s special word again.”

“Since you’re having a hard time with MEOW as your special word, do you want to adopt mine, Floey, and we’ll go on this journey into KINDNESS together?”

“Hey, that’s a great idea, Mom. Why don’t you start reading the first book to me this afternoon.  I don’t think I’m ready to hear from the Evangelicals yet.”

“Oh, Floey. We’ll work on opening up your mind to finding goodness (and kindness!) everywhere. Trust me…”

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